Who is the Comeback Heroine of the Jersey Surf?
Since doors opened in 2017 for Lucky Dog Surf Co. in Sea Bright, New Jersey, Owner Melissa D’Anna has battled Nor’easters and hurricanes, a life-threatening surfing injury that blinded her in one eye, and the coronavirus global pandemic shutdown. Still, she and her shop thrive with contagious optimism. “Bigger waves keep coming, but we’re ready,” she says. “You’ve got to stay focused on the happy in life.”
An April 2019 ride forever changed her outlook after a devastating surfing accident. A rough tumble from a wave forced her surfboard fin to collide with her head, causing a severe concussion and complete blindness in her left eye. “The blindness is permanent, which I am in the process of accepting. I was rescued by a woman, whom I now call my dear friend and soul sister-for life, Priscila. Without her, I may have drowned, and I am so grateful she was there that day and we are in each other’s lives.”
Surfing soothes the spirit, and through strength, determination, and the support of friends and family, D’Anna has kept Lucky Dog Surf thriving and returned to her beloved sport. “Surfing makes me feel whole, makes me feel connected with nature, and makes me feel completely alive,” she explains with gratitude. She stands firm that the accident strengthened her both physically and emotionally. Overcoming fear, “I am proud to say I am back out there! Just taking a few more precautions – I now sport a helmet and some nifty goggles. I’m sharing my experience because I feel more at peace with what happened and take comfort in knowing everything happens for a reason.”
Drawing inspiration from the personal journey of professional surfer Bethany Hamilton, who survived a shark attack to once again compete internationally, D’Anna is outspoken about overcoming the odds. In once hurricane-ravaged Sea Bright, D’Anna draws on inner strength to make her mark on the Jersey Shore as the women solopreneur behind Lucky Dog Surf. Ever appreciative of her environment, she advocates for protecting oceans, waves, and beaches. “These beaches are our playgrounds. They reward us with great surfing experiences and should be appreciated and respected both locally and globally.”
D’Anna grew up riding the waves. “I want to make this amazing sport more accessible to people of all ages and abilities,” she says. “More than that, my mission is to raise ocean awareness and teach people how to recognize different ocean conditions and react accordingly to protect personal safety.”
Womanpower Rising in Surf Culture
D’Anna is one of surfing’s comeback heroines with sheer athleticism and willpower driving her recovery. Much like Hamilton continues to do, D’Anna encourages women to consider the action-packed sport. “Some 14 million American surfers ride the oceans and wave pools every year,” D’Anna points out. “I want girls and women to take over the ranks.”
To raise visibility for women in the sport, Lucky Dog Surf sponsored Surf Like a Girl Female Empowerment Day with a showing of the Bethany Hamilton documentary Unstoppable: The Soul Surfer from Then to Now.
The surfing industry generates billions of dollars annually through sponsored events, apparel and equipment. For decades, this adrenaline-fueled sport has been dominated by men with record-breaking audacious big wave rides by champions the likes of Laird Hamilton and Kelly Slater.
Gutsy women have staked their own claim in the competitive daredevil sport, breaking records and inspiring legions of young girls worldwide. Champion competitor Lakey Peterson tweeted, “Rain or shine we work through it all.” Seven-time world surfing champion Stephanie Gilmore recently praised the World Surfing League’s announcement for equal pay for female and male competition surfers.
Four-time world champion Hawaiian surfer Carissa Kainani Moore writes on her website, “I’m inspired by those who live authentically and have the courage to be vulnerable. My dream is to encourage others to live their passions, be unapologetically themselves and to take the time for others and the world around them.” At just 18 years old, up-and-coming surfer Caroline Marks earned her place with Moore to represent the United States in surfing at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
Hard work and setbacks have never scared D’Anna, a native Jersey girl and Boston University alumna who worked musical theater and voiceover in New York City before moving solo to Kauai, Hawaii. Leaving behind the grind of auditions and callbacks, waking every day to surf the Pacific Ocean crystallized her vision for a more fulfilling future.
She reflects on that formative phase of her life and on her transformation this past year. “Surfing restored my spirit then and during my recovery.” As a lifelong surfer, she will forever be drawn to the power of the waves. “I created Lucky Dog Surf in my heart, and I’ve never stopped working to make my surf school and shop an absolute joy for everyone. Water will always heal the body and soul.”
Guinness Inspires the Annual Foamboard Face Off for MCSPCA
The Lucky Dog himself, Guinness the brown schnauzer, was rescued by D’Anna in the wake of Hurricane Maria. So that more cats and dogs like Guinness will find loving homes, each year she organizes and hosts a pet adoption at the Foamboard Face Off for contestants 6+ to raise money for the Monmouth County SPCA. Volunteers work with contestants of all ages who use soft-top surfboards typically used when learning to surf.
“Not only do we help an organization I feel strongly about, but to see boys and girls, men and women bringing the stoke back into surfing with a fun, stress-free competition makes me so happy. This competition is really about who’s having the most fun, not who’s the “best surfer”- which is what surfing is all about.”
Vying for prizes donated from sponsors like Softech Surfboards, Maui Jim, Penny Skateboards, Catch Surfboards, Sun Bum, and local restaurants and businesses, “Competitors get really creative, dressing up, doing crazy maneuvers like riding the board backwards and doing head stands,” D’Anna says. “We keep it fun, with dance breaks, donut eating contests, and awards for Best Wipe Outs. It’s an amazing way for our entire surfing community to come together.”
During this global pandemic, Lucky Dog Surf Co.’s doors may be temporarily closed but the store is open for business online for local delivery and shipment globally. Gift certificates may be purchased for future surf schools and camps, apparel, and equipment. Personal gift shopping is also available – just give the shop a call for assistance at 732-844-9283 .
Lucky Dog Surf Co. is located at 1096 Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright, NJ 07760. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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